Train ride consolidates 30 years of ASEAN-Korea ties
BUSAN/ GWANGJU — On a southbound train from Seoul, Oct. 16, two beauty pageant winners from Indonesia and South Korea — Karina Syahna and Keum Na-na — were sharing experiences from their highly competitive contests.
Also on board was The Apex Project, a five-member a cappella band from Singapore, and 11 more bands or soloists.
All from the 10 ASEAN member countries and South Korea, they performed on special stages before an audience that included ministers, ambassadors, professors, university students and journalists from the region.
This unique of mix of people participated in ASEAN-Korea Train: Advancing Together — a nationwide project from Oct. 15 to 19 to mark the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-South Korea relations.
The project began and ended in Seoul, with train and bus rides from Oct. 16 to 17 when moving to the southeastern cities of Gyeongju and Busan and then to the southwestern cities of Suncheon and Gwangju.
The project involved more than 200 participants who selectively joined the related programs in accordance with their schedules.
The programs included filming a music show in Seoul — “Open Concert” — to be aired by broadcaster KBS on Nov. 17, music performances on the train, an ASEAN-Korea Prosperity Night reception in Busan, tours of the UNESCO-listed Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju, Ramsar Convention-accredited Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve in Suncheon, Light of ASEAN, One Community and Harmony exhibition in Gwangju, and grand finale performances in Seoul.
The two-day train journey was especially to mark the 40-day countdown to a commemorative summit of ASEAN and South Korean leaders in Busan from Nov. 25 to 26.
The ride took more than six hours combined, giving passengers a chance to interact with people of different racial, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, to discuss their areas of interest, and to enjoy the scenery and sites that show Korea’s rapid economic development.
“And this is exactly what we intended,” said Lee Hyuk, secretary-general of the ASEAN-Korea Centre that organized the ASEAN-Korea Train.
Lee — a former South Korean ambassador to the Philippines and Vietnam — said the train journey was “about the future of ASEAN-South Korea relations” and that it was “adroitly” designed to address the community of people, prosperity and peace.
Collectively called the 3Ps, they are the three core pillars of President Moon Jae-in’s New Southern Policy aimed at deepening ties with ASEAN.
The ASEAN-Korea Train was part of the year-long celebrations that will last until the Busan meeting. This will be the third ASEAN-South Korea summit, with the first two taking place on Jeju Island in 2009 and in Busan in 2014.
Lee said he found the ASEAN-Korea Train more meaningful because the year also marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the ASEAN-Korea Centre, a Seoul-based international organization set up to promote exchanges between the two sides in areas such as trade, culture, tourism and academics.
Meanwhile, among the top-ranked participants were Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, SMEs and Startups Minister Park Young-sun, Presidential Committee on New Southern Policy Chairman Joo Hyung-chul and Myanmar Information Minister Pe Myint.
In her congratulatory address for launch of the ASEAN-Korea Train at Seoul Station, Oct. 16, Minister Park said the project would “certainly generate a positive momentum” leading to the third ASEAN-South Korea summit.
“The ASEAN-Korea Train will travel across Korea delivering messages of peace and prosperity, as well as the hopes for the next 30 years of the ASEAN-Korea partnership,” she said.
Her ministry plans to host a startup expo and a beauty festival in the week of the summit. The former will invite leaders of all 11 participating countries while the latter will welcome first ladies.
In a separate address, the Myanmar minister said the ASEAN-South Korea relationship has been “elevated to a new height” under the New Southern Policy.
Referring to participants from different fields, he said the train journey highlighted the “importance of inclusiveness, connectivity and harmony” and the vision of a people-centered community.
The ASEAN-Korea Train offered a chance to experience Korean hospitality for some participants, while others found it useful to learn from people of the same profession in other countries.
“It’s super well done,” said Apex Project leader Alejandro Hou Lu. “I really liked how [the organizers] treated everybody as important as they are supposed to be.”
Jean Goh, another member, agreed, saying, “We feel so welcome.”
Asked whether the two-day train ride bolstered people-to-people exchanges, all five band members said, “Yes,” and referred to a jam session with other ASEAN and South Korean musicians on the train.
“We’re very thankful for the organizers for providing this occasion to interact with each other. We could focus on music, talk to people, and get to know them,” said third member Yvonne Ng.
Keum, winner of the 2002 Miss Korea Pageant and honorary ambassador for ASEAN-South Korea dialogue, said she liked being able to spend time with others in the same space.
“We have breathed together, felt together, ate together and interacted,” she said. “This is what has made the participants closer than other celebratory projects.”
A top 10 finalist of Puteri Indonesia, a national beauty pageant in Indonesia, Syahna said she was “thrilled about connection” with all members of ASEAN and South Korea and discussing future collaborations.
Her presence helped some South Koreans to look past the stereotypes of Muslim women and to learn about diversity in Indonesia — the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.
“I am a Muslim but I do not wear hijab,” she said. “Indonesia has so many cultures and languages. We are open-minded and we respect each other’s cultures.”
For some expats such as Nabeela Ami Mohd Yusof of Malaysia, a Korea University of Technology and Education student, and Mahn Hung Pham, a Seoul bureau chief from Vietnam News Agency, said they were impressed by the performances on the train and enjoyed travelling en masse with other ASEAN people.
Delux Leang, a journalist from Cambodia’s Thmey Thmey News, said he liked learning about the principles of the New Southern Policy.
“I need to learn much more, yet I believe it is a good initiative,” he said. “It makes me realize how serious Korea is about ASEAN ties. This is going to help me have a better understanding when I write about Korea.”
As part of cross-border reconciliatory efforts, South Korea has been keen to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the November summit.
At a press conference in Busan, Mayor Oh Keo-don vowed to make last-minute efforts to have Kim at the meeting.
Joining Oh at the conference were South Korean Ambassador to ASEAN Lim Sung-nam, ASEAN-Korea Centre Secretary-General Lee and Myanmar Ambassador to South Korea Thant Sin.
Ambassador Lim said it is “not appropriate” to rule out the possibility that the North Korean leader could visit Busan next month.
In February, Oh proposed President Moon to discuss at the ASEAN-South Korea summit the possibility of setting up a development bank exclusively for North Korea.
Oh explained his idea was to nurture Busan as an international financial center, pointing out that the central government had selected the city to serve such a role in 2009.
During the past 30 years, ASEAN has emerged as South Korea’s second-largest trading bloc after China, the third-largest investment destination after the United States and the European Union and the most popular tourist destination.
ASEAN-Korea Centre Secretary-General Lee Hyuk, front row fifth from left, and other dignitaries cross arms to celebrate the ASEAN-Korea Train: Advancing Together project at Seoul Station in central Seoul, Oct 16.
ASEAN bands and soloists perform on the train bound for Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, Oct. 16. From left are Radiance Duo of the Philippines, Lotchana Anoulack and khean player Hongta Keomanysouk, both from Laos, Jackson Anak Michael of Malaysia, Nguyen Dong Trieu of Vietnam and Marcus Lee of Singapore’s The Apex Project.
A kinetic art installation at the Light of ASEAN, One Community and Harmony exhibition at Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, Oct. 17.
Guests enjoy a buffet dinner during a reception at the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, Oct. 17.
Participants on the ASEAN-Korea Train: Advancing Together visit the Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, Oct. 16.
Participants visit the Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, Oct. 17.